Image by cdd20 from Pixabay


24 June 2020

Dear Gus,

I was reading on the couch when I heard some loud banging upstairs. Then a rhythmic thud-thud-thud as you came down the stairs. A few moments passed and then, from the kitchen, I heard you say, “Well, I guess Santa Claus isn’t real.”

I got up, walked to the door, and looked into the kitchen to see that you had dragged down two suitcases. One of them, the large, orange suitcase, the one we often use when all of us travel somewhere, was open. You’d pulled out of it the box for the scooter that you got last year for Christmas, the scooter that had been meticulously crafted, so you were told, by enslaved elves in a workshop at the North Pole. I guess we had put it in there so that you wouldn't notice it in the trash on Christmas day. In a fashion very typical of me and your mother, we forgot about it: out of sight, out of mind. Now, here it lay between us, evidence of our little crime, of the fib that we had perpretrated for nine years. My mind searched for what to say. At what point do you give up on a lie?

Gazing across the scooter's box, we made eye contact in silence for several seconds. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re going to play a game I invented,” you said.

It’s been a rainy couple of days here, and our opportunities for playing outside have been limited. We’ve watched movies, played board games, fought with your foam lightsabers, been hurt by those same lightsabers, played more board games, read books, watched another movie. It’s been just the two of us because your mom has been out of town. I guess you were tired of the routine.

“The game is called ‘What’s-in-the-Box,’” you told me.

What’s-in-the-Box is a pretty simple affair. We each go around the house and find an item. We put the item into the suitcase and then the other person has to reach their hand into the suitcase, feel the item—no peeking!—and guess what it is.

I added a couple of rules to this:

  1. No food. I did not want crumbs invading the suitcases and then attracting critters.
  2. Nothing breakable/valuable. I didn’t want this game to result in a cracked phone screen or a broken typewriter.

For the next hour, we went around the house finding items and putting them in the suitcases. Once our suitcase was ready for the other person, we would play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who went first. Somehow, you beat me at Rock, Paper, Scissors just about every time: I know you’ve got some strategy, and I’m going to figure it out. Then we’d take turns sticking our hands into the suitcase and guessing at what it was we were feeling. I’m not sure how many rounds we played, but I can remember the following items: a toy snake, a brush used for washing dishes, the slippers shaped like poop emojis that Nanny gave you for Christmas, a small basketball trophy wrapped in a dress sock, some Mardi Gras beads, a can of compressed air used for removing dust for electronics, a Josh Reddick bobblehead.

At one point, I felt in the suitcase and said, “A box set of DVDs.”

You said, “Which ones?”

I replied, “It’s the Blue Planet and Planet Earth set.” You howled with delight, not believing that I could tell which DVDs they were. To be honest, I’m pretty damn good at What’s-in-the-Box.

One item, however, did stump me. I reached my hand into the suitcase and felt something cool and smooth to the touch. Its shape was odd, triangular; it felt like the head of a cobra, fangs out, ready to attack. It also felt like it was porcelain, like some kind of little statuette.

“Is this breakable?” I asked.

You looked at me and smiled. “Everything is breakable,” you said.

I wrinkled my brow and continued to feel the object. I couldn’t get the vision of the cobra out of my head, but I’d never seen any such item in our house. Why would we own a four-inch statue of a venomous snake ready to attack? My mind drifted to Indiana Jones and Harry Potter. I wondered if you were a Parselmouth and whether you secretly longed to join Slytherin House. Perhaps this was your way of breaking this news to me. Why did it have to be snakes?

Unable to shake these serpentine visions from my head, unable to see anything else with my fingers, I gave up.

You couldn’t believe it. “You thought it was a cobra,” you howled, throwing your head back and shooting your laughter at the ceiling.

I pulled the item out of the suitcase. It was a small statue of an angel in prayer, a golden cincture around its waist, its wings flaring out behind it. When the statue had been given to your mom, I had thought it the ugliest thing in the world. But it had belonged to Mimi, her grandmother, so we kept it.

I put the statue back on the piano where it typically hides behind the sheet music that is always on the music stand. The little angel sits next to another statue from the same set, an angel playing a harp.

I turned around and looked at you. You stood on the other side of the room in your red sneakers, your blue baseball cap turned backwards on your head, as is your fashion these days. You looked so tall, so old, not like a little kid anymore.

“You’re right,” I said, “Everything is breakable. Nothing lasts forever.”

With love,

Dad.